Recently, I was interviewed by MK Lords, a manager at Roberts & Roberts Brokerage and correspondent for Bitcoin Not Bombs, of which Antiwar.com is a proud member. The transcript can be found here. Ms. Lords asks me all the major questions about antiwar activism, crypto currency for a peace economy and the ACLU’s lawsuit on behalf of our founder Eric Garris and editorial director Justin Raimondo.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai is being depicted in the media as an obstinate spoiler who is sabotaging America’s plans for a decade or more of continued U.S. military occupation of Afghanistan by refusing to sign a status of forces agreement (SOFA) governing future troop presence. Who knows, maybe he is an obstinate saboteur. But his stated reasons for thwarting a security deal in the lead up to the scheduled 2014 drawdown are substantive.
I’ve written before about how ironic it is that the sticking point on a SOFA is whether U.S. troops will be granted legal immunity from Afghan law, since it kind of implies expectations on both sides that U.S. soldiers will continue to commit crimes. And yes, the security deal does hinge on this question of legal jurisdiction, but there is a more literal reason to stall the agreement.
This ably reported piece in the Los Angeles Times puts Karzai’s reluctance to sign a deal in the context of continued civilian casualties caused by U.S. troops. A September drone strike, the article explains, killed 14 people who residents say were civilians and U.S. officials say were Taliban.
“There were pieces of my family all over the road,” said Jan, recalling the deadly Sept. 7 late afternoon incident in an interview last week. “I picked up those pieces from the road and from the truck and wrapped them in a sheet to bury them.
“Do the American people want to spend their money this way, on drones that kill our women and children?” he asked.
The repercussions of such strikes are felt far beyond the dark escarpments of Kunar province. The grief and rage of Jan and his relatives help explain the approval among some Afghans of President Hamid Karzai’s thus far non-negotiable demand that civilian casualties cease if he is to sign a proposed 10-year security agreement with the United States.
Karzai responded to the Kunar attack by accusing the United States of recklessness and callous disregard for innocent Afghans. After a child died in a drone strike Thursday in southern Afghanistan, Karzai suggested that the attack had ended any chance of an accord.
Civilian deaths at the hands of U.S. forces have long poisoned Karzai’s relationship with the United States. That antagonism has hardened this month into a vise that could abruptly end America’s 12-year, multibillion-dollar investment in Afghanistan, despite a decline in civilian casualties due to new safeguards by foreign forces.
Under current agreements, U.S. forces operate under the legal jurisdiction of the U.S. military, which makes it next to impossible for Afghans to seek recourse for operations that scatter their family’s body parts all over the road. And as the last decade of occupation has indisputably demonstrated, the U.S. typically has a rather blasé attitude about investigating and prosecuting crimes committed by American soldiers.
This has led the Obama administration to, once again, threaten a “zero option,” in which all U.S. troops are pulled out in 2014 as they were in Iraq in 2011. The administration quite clearly wants to avoid this, but they aren’t about to leave U.S. troops to the Afghan legal system. So, the zero option is a real possibility – a good thing for everyone, including Afghan civilians.
“The possibility of a military presence into 2024 is unacceptable,” says Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA). “There is no military solution in Afghanistan. After 13 years and more than $778 billion invested in an unstable country and the corrupt Karzai government, it’s time to bring our troops and tax dollars home.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, (D-CA) and Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), the leaders of the Senate and House Intelligence committees respectively, went on CNN’s Sunday talk show yesterday to put fear into the hearts of Americans. They told us we are in more danger now than ever and the obvious corollary to this is that Americans need to take their fear of government and redirect it to nameless and faceless terrorists who are out to destroy us.
“There are new bombs, very big bombs,” Feinstain warned, “that go through (metal-detecting) magnetometers.” She warned of “huge malevolence out there.” This puts “enormous pressure” on our intelligence community, Rogers added, which means Americans have to lay off the NSA because they “are not the bad guys.”
In other words, the NSA is not your enemy. Really, it isn’t. The government is just protecting us from foreign bogeymen that are the real danger.
There is an obvious reason for this kind of rhetoric. Feinstein has been using this script for a long time. A couple months ago she published a piece in the Wall Street Journal making the argument that if we had the NSA’s current surveillance structure in place prior to 9/11, we could have prevented the attack.
The Cato Institute’s Julian Sanchez wrote in response that Feinstein’s argument “is simply an attempt to exploit the tragedy of 9/11 to deflect criticism of massive domestic surveillance that would not have been any use in preventing that attack.”
Following the 2009 military coup in Honduras, the U.S. expanded aid and security cooperation with the new hard-right government and heaped legitimacy on the regime despite steadily increasing human rights abuses. This week, Honduras had an election that many international observers expected to be of dubious validity, thanks to the corruption of the ruling party and its control over the military and police (an occupational distinction which has been deliberately blurred in recent years).
Ballot counting is not yet finished and both leading candidates, Xiomara Castro de Zelaya (the wife of ousted president Manuel Zelaya), and her conservative rival, Juan Orlando Hernández believe they’ve won. Zelaya is confident of a win and explicitly predicts widespread voter fraud. Meanwhile, Hernández has “declared himself the country’s new president,” according to the Washington Post.
In Foreign Affairs, Dana Frank provides context in terms of U.S. policy:
For its part, the U.S. State Department indicates that it continues to support the post-coup regime and Hernández, who, according to a 2010 cable released by WikiLeaks, “has consistently supported U.S. interests.” The United States has never denounced his overthrow of the Supreme Court, the stacking of the attorney general’s office, or the militarization of policing. It continues to pour tens of millions of dollars into both the police and the military, and, more broadly, legitimates the current government by calling it a partner in addressing the security crisis and fighting the drug war.
In remarks that many took as patronizing, U.S. ambassador Lisa Kubiske recently encouraged Honduran voters to turn out to polls en masse and promised that, thanks in part to U.S.-sponsored oversight, this will be “the cleanest election in Honduran history.” Observers are pouring in from all over the world. But many of the key bodies have been accused of legitimating bogus elections in Honduras before. The U.S.-funded National Democratic Institute, for example, helped certify the 2009 elections, when all other international observers except the International Republican Institute pulled out in because of the repressive conditions under which they were being conducted. The U.S. State Department, which has now set itself as the guarantor of the current elections, recognized Lobo’s election in 2009 before the polls had even closed. It was clear that he was going to win, but the move nevertheless sent a disturbing message about the State Department’s desire to swiftly legitimate the election with or without fraud. In addition, the Organization of American States, which also plans to watch the election, certified the 2012 primaries despite widespread evidence of fraud.
There have been several incidents in the past couple years where commando-style Drug Enforcement Administration agents cooperating with Honduran security forces have raided people’s homes and even killed civilians, all in the name of the drug war. This has contributed to the rising violence and insecurity in Honduras, which has the highest homicide rate in the world, not to mention the weakening of democratic institutions and respect for the rule of law. There are even allegations of U.S. support for death squads run by the Honduran police department.
The Committee of the Families of the Disappeared of Honduras (COFADEH), a human rights organization, said in a statement last year that “a foreign army [i.e., the U.S. army] protected under the new hegemonic concept of the ‘war on drugs,’ legalized with reforms to the 1953 Military Treaty, violates our territorial sovereignty and kills civilians as if it was in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya or Syria.”
A group of 40 Honduran scholars and former government officials then sent a letter to President Barak Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, demanding the U.S. stop supporting the Honduran military and police. The letter was publicly supported by 300 academics in 29 countries.
“It’s really troubling,” said American University anthropology professor Adrienne Pine, one of the signers. “It’s absolutely not appropriate for U.S. law enforcement to be killing other people in other countries.”
One of the four emerging myths about the Iran-P5+1 deal has reached a fever pitch. Turn on basically any network news channel and you’ll hear it propagated again and again: Iran got too much sanctions relief!
People are even saying this deal asked too much of the P5+1 and too little of Iran, when really the opposite is true. Here’s Ankit Panda and Zachary Keck in The Diplomat explaining what that $7 billion really means to Iran.
Altogether, the White House estimates that this amounts to between US$6 billion and US$7 billion in sanctions relief for Iran over the six month period, although the higher figure appears to incorporate the humanitarian aid and the spare parts for Iran’s civilian aircraft. Under the current sanctions regime, Iran loses about US$5 billion each month in oil sales alone, with an unknown additional loss from financial and other sanctions. Based on a 30 day month, this means Iran will be receiving at most about 36 days of relief from oil sanctions, despite freezing and in some cases rolling back its nuclear program for a period of 182.5 days.
Thirty-six days of modest financial benefit in exchange for freezing or rolling back the entirety of Iran’s nuclear enrichment program.
The deal reached between Iran and the P5+1 is top news today and probably much of this week. In one of the few instances of a media buzz word accurately describing a major news event, I do think the agreement, although simply an interim deal, is historic. It wasn’t very long ago that even low-level diplomacy with Iran was totally out of the question.
The deal was finalized in the wee hours of Sunday morning, but already there are a number of myths being propagated throughout the media. Here are a few to watch out for:
1. Iran got too much sanctions relief. Actually, Iran got almost no sanctions relief. The bulk of the goods for Iran is that they got about $7 billion of their own overseas assets, out of approximately $100 billion, unfrozen. Some minor, negligible sanctions were eased on gold and precious medals transactions and to facilitate the delivery of spare parts for Iran’s outmoded airplanes. These will have little positive effect on the Iranian economy, which is a large part of Rouhani’s domestic selling point for diplomacy. The crippling economic sanctions on Iran’s oil and banking sectors – widely considered the most devastating – remain in place.
2. Iran’s enrichment program is left largely intact, leaving room for Iran to cheat. This deal freezes or rolls back the entirety of Iran’s uranium enrichment program. Half of it’s stockpile of 20% enriched uranium, the aspect of the nuclear program most cited by Iran hawks, will be oxidized and the other half will be irreversibly converted into fuel rods for the Tehran Research Reactor. For the whole of the 6 month period over which this agreement reigns, Iran agreed not to enrich any uranium past 5%. Furthermore, no “further advances” will be made at the facilities at Natanz, Fordow, or Arak. And finally, declared facilities will be inspected daily – not weekly – daily to ensure compliance.
Iran has no incentive to cheat. The hawks’ argument that Iran will use this interim deal to breakout and dash for a nuclear weapon are foolish and illogical. The Iranian regime has staked its domestic and international credibility on this diplomatic path. If it falls apart because they defied the very deal they pushed for and agreed to, they’d look ridiculous. Moreover, it’s clearly preferable in the Iranian cost-benefit analysis to willingly roll back their enrichment program in exchange for thorough sanctions relief and greater international prestige arising out of their acknowledged cooperation.
Not to mention the fact that Iran cheating would give the U.S. or Israel a perfect excuse for bombing, which Iran obviously doesn’t want.